The Ringmaster is a major character and the main human antagonist in Disney's 1941 animated feature film, Dumbo. As his name suggests, he is the head honcho of the circus in which most of the film takes place.
The Ringmaster is a stereotypical showman and businessman, with his main objective being to put on a decent, and entertaining show for profit. While an average and human agenda, his manner of doing so are extremely dubious, with several moments throughout the film hinting at the Ringmaster's nature behind closed doors. According to his undervalued roustabouts, the Ringmaster is an abusive figure, forcing his crew to work through harsh conditions, all the while spewing derogatory or even racist names. It is mentioned by both the roustabouts and the clowns that he underpays his employees greatly, with the clowns all eventually asking him for a raise. His treatment of the animals (specifically the elephants) is also an indication of the Ringmaster's cruelty, as he carelessly has them perform impossible and life-threatening stunts as a means to draw in box office revenue, the best example of it is the Pyramid of Pachyderms (implied to not have even be rehearsed once). According to animation historian John Canemaker, this was purposefully done, as Dumbo has a cynical outlook on the traveling circus industry, highlighting how the entire setup is nothing more than a cheap, often sadistic illusion. Despite this, he is never shown to be quite as outwardly malicious as other villains introduced before or after him: his antagonistic actions against the Jumbo family are only answers to their dangerous behavior (going crazy against circus guests and ruining an albeit already dangerous stunt). He may be, at his worst, a man running a show in an extremely questionable manner.
The animals of the circus, in particular the elephants and Timothy Mouse, do not think too highly of the Ringmaster, finding him pompous and oafish—the latter of which isn't entirely untrue, as a recurring gag with the Ringmaster involves him tumbling into a barrel of water.
He is first seen when the train named Casey Junior is all loaded and ready to go and shouts "All aboard!" and the train whistles back "All aboard! Let's go!". He is seen again leading the circus parade after they've arrived at their first city.
When some mean kids start to make fun of Dumbo's big ears, Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo's mother, starts attacking them in an attempt to protect her son. However, the Ringmaster, not having seen the kids bullying Dumbo, tries to stop her along with a group of circus guards, only to be thrown by Mrs. Jumbo into the barrel where Dumbo was bathed in earlier.
Furious, the Ringmaster has the "mad elephant" locked up in a cage. Later, he talks to his assistant Joe about a pachyderm pyramid but has no clue what his climax will be. Timothy the Mouse, who (along with Dumbo) heard this, convinces the Ringmaster in his sleep to make Dumbo the climax so that Mrs. Jumbo can be let out. The next day, the Ringmaster puts the act into use, but Dumbo trips over his ears and causes the pyramid to fall, setting off a catastrophic chain of events which leads to the tent itself falling down and leaving the Ringmaster angry and disappointed at the disaster that resulted from his big idea.
Seeing no other use for Dumbo, he teams the little elephant with the clowns so to give him a role without causing anything disastrous. During a show in which Dumbo jumps off a higher building, he sees Dumbo soar over the crowd. He points in amazement to see something he never saw before. He receives his comeuppance via public humiliation, as Dumbo uses his ability to fly by running the Ringmaster in a water-filled barrel (echoing what Mrs. Jumbo did earlier) then throwing one of the clowns' elephant mask atop his rear.
He is not seen again after his humiliation, but since Timothy became Dumbo's manager, it is presumable that he became the new manager of the circus, making Dumbo the main star of his circus, signing a Hollywood contract, giving the little elephant his own train car, and best of all, freeing Mrs. Jumbo from her solitary confinement.
In the Tim Burton remake, the Ringmaster is portrayed by Danny DeVito and is named Max Medici, while his circus is known as the Medici Brothers Circus. He is a much more heroic character in the movie, with the role of the villain being given to V.A. Vandevere.
He is first shown setting up the circus and welcoming Holt Farrier back from World War I. He and his kids reveal that Holt's wife died in the 1918 flu epidemic and that he has sold the horses from the couple's act, leaving Holt without an act. He also reveals that he has purchased a pregnant elephant named Mrs. Jumbo, hoping that the baby will become a star attraction for the failing circus.
When Mrs. Jumbo gives birth, Medici immediately requests for the baby's abnormally large ears to be hidden. However, when the elephant's ears are accidentally exposed, leading the crowd to name him Dumbo, Mrs. Jumbo storms into the ring and causes extensive damage and accidentally kills her abusive handler, Rufus. To prevent a public relations problem, Medici has her locked up as a "mad elephant" and sells her back to her original owner the next day (although he is only able to get him to pay half of what Medici bought the elephant for).
Wanting to keep Dumbo but not wanting him in a serious role, Medici puts him and Holt (who is still looking for a replacement act) in the clown act. Initially, the action is successful, and Medici comments that the audience loves it. However, the act soon goes horribly wrong and Dumbo ends up trapped on a high platform on a burning building. Holt's daughter Milly gives Dumbo a feather, encouraging him to fly. This is photographed by an audience member and winds up making national headlines and Dumbo becomes an overnight celebrity. Because of this event, the circus becomes more successful than ever, and a proud Medici happily praises Dumbo as a star.
Medici is approached by businessman V.A. Vandevere sometime later, who offers to work out a deal with Medici to give his troupe a home and a permanent venue for their show. Vandevere reveals that he knows that there is no second "Medici brother" and offers to act as a surrogate brother to Medici should he take him up on his offer. Medici agrees and Vandevere becomes co-owner of the circus.
On the night of the troupe's first performance at Vandevere's theme park Dreamland, Medici joins Vandevere and investor J. Griffin Remington in the VIP seats. However, Medici soon learns that the event lacked a safety net, which almost killed Dumbo and Colette, and that Vandevere currently owns Mrs. Jumbo in a separate exhibit. He is even very distraught to see Vandevere ordering his men to separate Dumbo from his mother. Soon after, Vandevere decides to have Mrs. Jumbo taken away and killed and orders the troupe to be fired to cover his tracks, much to Medici's dismay. Deciding that he has had enough, Medici allows his troupe to free Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo and transport them back to India. Vandevere attempts to stop them but ends up causing an electrical fault that burns down the entire park. Knowing that Medici was involved in freeing the elephants, Vandevere orders for Medici to be arrested, but Medici points out that Dreamland is burning thanks to Vandevere's foolishness and laughs at it. Medici then takes Remington, who he has befriended, away from the scene to get a hot dog.
After the Dreamland incident, Medici decides to give Holt his horse act back, hires Colette as part of the troupe, gives Milly her own sideshow act, gives Joe an act, renames the circus to "The Medici Family Circus", and gives his remaining animals more freedom.
He is mentioned in the book Return to the Isle of the Lost of the Descendants franchise, as one of the villains sent to the Isle of the Lost, where appears his daughter, Hermie Bing (whose name is inspired by her father's original voice actor).
In the video game, the Ringmaster, and several other Disney Villains, plan on stealing the endings of their respective stories, and altering them so that they may get the happily ever after. The Ringmaster alters the story of Dumbo and forces the baby elephant to perform nonstop. He also alters the circus' overall look, making it seem like a horror film-esqe area. However, thanks to Jiminy Cricket and Mrs. Jumbo, the circus and Dumbo are saved. In the climax of the game, he and the other villains attempt to stop the player and Jiminy from restoring the stories by each taking one of the happy ending pages. He is defeated when the player uses the book containing the stories as a shield.
While not appearing physically, the Ringmaster serves as the spokesperson for the Casey Jr. Circus Train, providing guests with the typical safety and tidbit lines normally given by cast members, albeit in his thick accent.
- The Ringmaster's original voice actor, Herman Bing, actually worked as a circus clown at one point in his life.
- The scene where the silhouetted Ringmaster and Joe converse in the tent was inspired by German expressionist films.
- The Ringmaster is one of only two humans in the animated movie whose face is clearly visible at some point: the others are hidden or with low details. The second character is Smitty the bully.
- In the 2019 remake Max has a made-up brother named Giuseppe Medici who was the other Medici Brother. He was portrayed by Danny DeVito who also played Max Medici. As noted by Vandevere, Max does not actually have a brother but always wanted one.
- When Max Medici was walking next to Casey Junior and heading to his office which is located in the red caboose he was singing "Casey, Jr.".
- At one point in the 2019 film when Dumbo is given a bath, Max tells one of the clowns "no booze near the baby". This could be a reference to the original film when Dumbo drank water spiked with champagne by the clowns and ended up drunk.
- ↑ Dumbo: Big Top Edition DVD commentary